by Sharon Florentine

6 things women want at work

Apr 24, 20155 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Women are leaving the IT industry in droves, and organizations are struggling to engage and retain these valuable employees. So, what do women want at work? Sure, they want equal pay, but it’s more complicated than that.

What do women want at work? The same things every worker wants: fair pay and the ability to work on projects and solutions that fuel their passion and allow them to make a difference — not just in the workplace, but in the world at large. Throw in a healthy dose of flexibility and some successful female role models in your leadership, and you’ve got a formula for attracting, hiring and retaining the best female tech talent available.

Equal pay

More than 40 years after Equal Pay act of 1963, white women still make 0.78 to a man’s dollar, on average. Black women and Latinas make even less compared to a white male’s salary. Often time women don’t negotiate as often or as successfully as men do, even when negotiating pay for the same job. Women are disproportionately dropping out of the workforce to raise children, and are facing obstacles to reentry. Women are consciously or unconsciously discriminated against. Women also tend to leave the IT industry when faced with misogyny and harassment. Regardless of why, a gender pay gap does exist.

Flexibility and paid leave

Millennials want flexibility, too, and more men are demanding flexible work schedules, paternity leave and are focusing more energy on home and family life, but the truth is women are still responsible for the lion’s share of “second shift” responsibilities: child care, housework and the like, and are more likely to drop out of the workforce to care for children.

A recent study shows that even when women do return to work after having children, they often feel pushed out and unsupported; in fact, in the U.S., the lack of paid family leave and child care assistance is not only forcing women out of the workforce, it’s detrimental to their wages and potential earnings growth, too. Flexibility, including remote work options, flex-time, paid leave and child care support, is key to retaining women in the workplace.

Role models and mentors

Women want to look at a company’s leadership and see other women represented. They want to see that other women have succeeded, and that they can, too, within that organization, says Elizabeth Ames, vice president at the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), a non-profit that seeks to advance women in technology. “If you’re looking for a job and you go to a company’s website, what do you see? Is it photo after photo of older white men in leadership roles? Or are there other sexes, races, ethnicities represented?” says Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software.

“One of the things we’ve found is that like attracts like. If we’re trying to get more women onto our teams, we have to have women in leadership roles — I can tell you once we hired a female product architect, we saw increased interest from other great female talent because they felt it was a place they’d be welcomed,” says Parsons.

Recognition and Representation

It’s laudable that so many companies, organizations and institutions are working toward increasing the number of women in STEM fields, but don’t ignore the decent percentage of female workers in these fields currently.

“As much as there’s a focus on lack of women in computing, there are around 23 percent of women who are in the field already. There’s so many of them who are doing incredible work, but they don’t get a ton of visibility, and sometimes that can be discouraging to other women trying to make it. We need more visible role models and more attention to the companies and women who are working to change this — to close this gap,” says Elizabeth Ames, vice president at the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), a nonprofit that seeks to advance women in technology.

Opportunities for advancement/transparency

For working women, juggling a career with the responsibilities of a home and children — not to mention fighting against bias and discrimination — can make advancement a secondary priority. Making sure women and all workers, for that matter, have a clear path for career advancement as well as regular performance reviews and feedback can increase both retention and engagement, says ABI’s Elizabeth Ames.

“One of the main reasons women don’t return to work after having children or after another major life event is the feeling that they’re not accomplishing goals, or that their contributions aren’t recognized or appreciated,” Ames says. “One of the questions so many women ask themselves is, ‘Am I truly engaged at my job? Am I making a difference? Where am I going in this job, or in this career?’ and if they don’t have a concrete answer, it sometimes makes more sense for them to drop out.”

Add in the high cost of childcare and lack of family support and paid leave, and it’s a recipe for low engagement, poor retention rates and high turnover. Ensuring career-path transparency, necessary steps for promotion and advancement as well as continuous feedback can help address these issues, she says.

Meaningful work

Are you giving your employees the chance to work on “passion projects”? It’s one way to keep your talent engaged and excited about the work they’re doing, says Ames. “One of our partner companies did a test recently where they let internal employees ‘freelance’ within the company; to choose which projects they wanted to work on. They were skeptical at first,” Ames says, thinking surely the employees would work fewer hours and be less productive when given more freedom. Instead, she says, the results were just the opposite.

“The employees worked longer hours and were much more engaged and passionate about their work, and the work was done quickly and with an efficient use of resources,” says Ames. That approach can maximize all your available talent, not just women.